Over-the-air viewers opting for free DTV


The latest survey conducted for the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) finds that most people who receive their analog television service over the air have made up their minds about how they are going to handle the digital transition next February. They’re opting to stick with free TV, rather than pay for cable or satellite service. So, they plan to acquire a converter box or buy a digital television set.

Roughly 62% of the approximately 14.5 million over-the-air consuming households who are aware of the cutoff to analog television indicated that they would buy a converter box or digital TV set between now and when the transition takes effect February 17, 2009, compared to 10% who would opt for cable, satellite or another telecommunications service to receive digital television.

Consumer awareness of the transition has also increased – rising to 76.4% in February 2008 compared to 51% in November 2007. Moreover, APTS noted, 55%, or 23 million of these households, correctly identified the year when the DTV transition will occur.

“It’s estimated that there are nine million over-the-air households in America that know about the transition and say they want to continue to receive free television. The wishes of these households, which encompass nearly 26 million people, can’t be ignored. We must ensure that these consumers know how to install converter boxes and have the proper antenna equipment to receive adequate digital signals,” said APTS Acting President and CEO Mark Erstling.

The choice of a converter box or digital TV set has dramatically increased since November 2006, when only 28% of over-the-air households said they would take those options. Part of that increase is credited to the converter box coupon program that launched in January and is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). As of March 19th, NTIA reported it had received requests for 8,067,272 coupons from 4,267,828 households.

Still, 17.5% of over-the-air consumers who are aware of the transition “don’t know” what they will do and roughly 10 percent said they would “do nothing.” 75% of all American households who are aware of the transition don’t understand why the transition is taking place at all, up from 58% six months ago. But the perception of how the government is handling the transition has slightly improved since November 2007. About 26% of all Americans think the government is on the “right track,” compared to 17% six months ago.

The study results are based on a February 2008 survey of 1,307 households conducted by research firm CENTRIS for APTS.

RBR/TVBR observation: The effort by broadcasters to get the word out is working. More remains to be done, of course, but people do watch television and they do care about being able to continue watching. Does anyone have any good ideas about how to deal with those folks who say they will “do nothing” and presumably think that will work out OK? Doing nothing is not a viable option, since they will get nothing but static come next February where they previously watched their favorite programs and got their local news and weather. The NTIA vouchers make some converter boxes virtually free, but the consumer has to make the effort to get one.